Charles Simonds lovingly sharpens his woodworking tools.
Liriodendron tulipifera, showing the vivid palette of the Tulip Tree
Chenopodium foliosum, a herbarium specimen first found in the Chicago region in 1892
Detail of Concilience diagram
Aix sponsa, Male and Female Wood Ducks
Our children have a natural inclination and empathy for the patterns of nature.
Today, many in our culture are looking to more effective, healthier, locally based ways of caring for our places by making, building, and stewarding assets to insure that these assets might endure for our posterity. The Conservation Research Institute holds to the idea that results and solutions are born of a balanced application of inductive and deductive reasoning, nurtured through colloquium [Latin: from colloqui, to talk together], and guided by a creative director.
As a research and educational institution, the Conservation Research Institute is poised to “sharpen the lens” through Research and Education to discover and understand the issues, look back to what caused or inspired us to think what we think today, and then discover ways of thinking through designs and applications that achieve results and solutions governed by a set of First Principles.
We believe all our activities and projects should be conceived, designed, and implemented in accordance with a set of governing first principles.
• There are natural laws that govern all things, which when understood and attended, allow us and our relationship with the natural world to prosper.
• In nurturing the circle of life, it is paramount to understand that children are the carriers of innovation and creativity; adults bear the skills, crafts, and memories; the elders keep the wisdom and endow the children with the long view.
• Beauty is fundamental to our well-being. When our surroundings speak to beauty we love them, care for them, and therefore sustain them. That which is loved becomes beautiful; that which is beautiful is loved, cared for, and endures.
• Natural to the efforts of artisans and craftsmen is a love of and passion for what they do, an essential energy in the building of enduring places and things.
• Wisdom and perspective are born of a balanced application of inductive and deductive reasoning, nurtured through dialogue within a colloquium.
Today, many in our culture are looking to more effective, healthier, locally based ways of caring for our places by making, building, and stewarding assets that they might endure for our posterity.
The Conservation Research Institute holds to the idea that these results and solutions are born of the blending of beauty, science, and place.
“Human beings came into existence at the advanced stage of the Cenozoic era to bear the burden and responsibility of human intelligence. We needed a magnificent world of beauty in order to give us the healing we would need. The greatest deepest tragedy of losing the splendor of the outer world is that we will always have an inner demand—we are genetically coded to exist in a world of beauty.”
— Father Thomas Berry
We believe that too often our culture has chosen to accept the unacceptable through the loss of the ideals of beauty and as a result our well-being is being deeply affected. With the atrophy of beauty has come the atrophy of the human soul. We need to become aware of what is happening to us as a result of our immersion into a lack of beauty and what the consequences are … ugliness, ill health, and narcissism.
Beauty brings us “home” in a way that is familiar to every human being. If we can understand beauty (culturally and transcendentally) as holistically as possible people will relate to it where it comes through for them and they will be reawakened to the essential need for beauty in our lives. When a people choose to live in harmony with their place they set the stage for beauty that will sustain for generations to come.
Our work is founded in an aesthetics that is unearthed from the distinct beauty and potential of each place and culture. Whenever possible, the work is nurtured and materialized through love by the hands and minds of a local guild of skilled and gifted professionals, practitioners, artisans, artists and craftspeople.
Science is the practice of obtaining knowledge through testable explanations and postulations; it is the knowledge we have gained through observation and experience. CRI's efforts are grounded in science and, in particular, we are guided by the natural laws that govern all things.
Whether trying to solve issues of soil degradation and carbon storage issues or finding ways to reintegrate our children into the natural world, Conservation Research Institute uses models discernible in nature as our guide. We believe that when our cultural behaviors are in harmony with land and the native plants and animals around us, we are in consilience with our place and ourselves. We always will ask, “Are we building on these relationships or are we mining them away.”
CRI will also always ask, “Why do we do what we do, think the way we think, and value what we value?” Often heard is Albert Einstein’s revelations, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” And, “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
With that in mind, we believe a sharpening of the lens as well as deep humility are required in order to ask ourselves if our understandings will leave a seventh generation with a sustainable long view.
“Place is the first of all beings, since everything that exists is in a place and cannot exist without a space.”
Unique as every child born are the places in which we live and learn, toil and try, play and pray. CRI always looks first to “place” to find the emerging story for a design or tactic no matter if it has been covered with asphalt as in our urban areas or remains a native landscape like the black ash swamps of the Chicago Region. For even when a place has been covered by things made by man, CRI believes the true nature of the place continues to affect the place and the place continues to affect the whole.
Through research and scientific observation CRI’s goal is to identify our remnant lands so they can be recognized and encouraged to expand, restore what we can of the land that still holds the seeds for restoration, and find sustainable ways to live in harmony with the resources of the place critical to our health and well-being.
Cultural considerations (stories, artwork, histories) are as much a part of a place as its natural aspects (rivers, forests, prairies) and its physical aspects (buildings, roadways, views). Woven together a pattern of local beauty and authenticity emerges that brings about a profound experience in design. CRI works to create an enduring beauty that weaves us into the warp and weft of our places.
For Conservation Research Institute, The School of Athens represents the beauty fundamental to a healthy colloquium and recognizes that no one person nor one discipline can achieve the wisdom and perspective necessary to address most of the critical problems of our time.
Even in “integrated design” efforts, unfortunately, the results usually reflect a very silo-centered perspective. CRI seeks to move out of this process into one centered around client-focused First Principles and much less around specific design preferences of a “prime” consultant. The current process also tends to include superficial attention to the arts and crafts. There is no way a typical general contractor, under current contract limitations and liabilities, can represent the arts and human craft into site and infrastructure unless as an afterthought or faux application. The “place” or landscape is also often left until the end when the building is enhanced with horticultural effects instead of an emphasis on a landscape that nurtures recombinant DNA in future generations as part of an autogenic system.
We believe that a Creative Director is most able to bring all of the design professionals together as equal members of a design colloquium that includes the client, program factors, and representatives of the ambient land and community within and among which the program is integrated. If future development or re-development efforts are to attend to generations yet unborn, who eventually will occupy the premises, we must escape from a hierarchical design process. If we are to do so, we must strive to transcendent thinking and application. Words like integrated, holistic, and sustainable have become architectural patois. CRI acknowledges that design has come a long way over the last 10 to 15 years. We also believe we have a lot of work to do if these words are to inspire us to achieve that which they imply and that which we seek. If we seek to make a difference we must do things differently.
The world we cherish and have always found beautiful is a living world, that happy interface between heaven and earth—those meters just below and just above the surface. This area is the mother of all life and mother must be healthy if her children are to be happy. She teaches her children through the elements of nature, both animate and inanimate. We believe that, with sustained humility and dedication, we can and must pass her wisdom to our children and hope that they will do the same for their children. Knowing that our earth and our relationship with our mother is ill, we hope that the Conservation Research Institute can represent a catalyst and opportunity to move our efforts forward as people and pedagogues, humans and healers of living earth.
A sweet blend of Aristotelian and Platonic thinking could give us a combined wisdom and perspective, such as one might infer from Raphael’s painting, School of Athens. Thomas Jefferson picked up on this idea quite beautifully at Old Cabell Hall, where he constructed an 11-panel replica as a backdrop to lectures at the University of Virginia. One would not want to turn the direction over either to Aristotle or Plato, or even Socrates. The Creative Director here was the painter. Through a balanced colloquium, the Conservation Research Institute seeks to paint a new picture, one that will live, and continue to live in an earth that is on a healing trajectory girded by wisdom and perspective.
We are inspired by Raphael's The School of Athens to consider the interconnectedness of science and art, truth and beauty, and apply to our work a balance of inductive and deductive reasoning, nurtured through colloquium.